Car reviews - Subaru - Impreza - WRX STi sedan
Street cred, exhaust note, performance, reduced steering kickback, grip, effective drivetrain updates
Room for improvement
Frustrating alarm system, lack of bottom-end torque, uncompromising ride quality
15 Apr 2005
By TIM BRITTEN
STREET credibility is a given if you happen to be at the wheel of a Subaru WRX STi. There’s not much around for less than $60,000 that could keep a well-driven STi remotely in sight.
And even more so if it happens to be the revised 2004 model, which might not pick up any extra power or torque, but certainly makes significant gains in mechanical sophistication and handling refinement.
The hot-rod version of the quintessential street racer aims at improving general on-road behaviour rather than straight acceleration – something it already had plenty of – by spending engineering time on both the suspension and driveline.
The intention was to give the Subaru driver more choice in terms of setting the vehicle up for specific circumstances, while underpinning this with even tighter basic handling.
The big change is the adoption of a driver control centre differential (DCCD) for the all-wheel drive system that can be adjusted, via a control between the front seats, anywhere between a locked 50:50 front/rear torque split to a maximum 35:65 split.
As you would understand, swapping the power delivery bias between front and rear axles can provide a dramatic range of handling characteristics.
Understeer? Certainly sir – just select the 50:50 power split. Oversteer? Easy – the 35:65 apportionments should suit you nicely.
If you’re happier to rely on electronics to make the decisions for you, DCCD also offers a mode that uses input from a yaw rate sensor to apportion the torque automatically.
For most of us on the road that’s probably the wisest and easiest choice to live with – in fact, even on the track the auto mode is reportedly the fastest way of getting around corners.
The revised driveline has something else up its sleeve too – a new, helical limited-slip front differential that is claimed to give a more linear drive transfer replaces the previous STi’s torque-sensing limited-slip front diff.
These rather significant driveline changes are underlaid by some suspension work too, including bigger front and rear anti-roll bars, new aluminium suspension links front and rear, dampers on the steering system to reduce kick-back, wider wheels and a slightly longer track that is the result of redesigning the rear suspension mount.
The STi has always been a lot more than merely a worked-over WRX – engine, driveline and suspension have all been beefed up to cater for the forces imposed on it by the world rally circuit that is the STi’s familiar stomping ground. The newest model ramps it up even further.
On the road, the STi’s competition breeding – and the role WRX plays in the Australian psyche – is immediately obvious.
For a start, there’s the initially frustrating but ultimately almost-comfortable-to-live-with alarm system. This requires the punching-in of a four-digit code on a keypad to the right of the steering column before the engine can be started.
Okay when you’ve lived with the car for a while, but sometimes frustrating when you haven’t. The reason for being there – the Subaru is an irresistible target for car thieves – makes it worthwhile though.
Work your way through the procedures and you’ll be rewarded by a meaty, menacing, delicious engine note that makes all those big-bore exhausts seen on every second WRX seem wimpy.
The message is clear: 195kW and 343Nm are at play here. The sort of thing you need to propel you through the standing 400 metres in 13.8 seconds on practically any surface, providing you’ve learned how to balance the revs, clutch and gearshift.
The STi has never had a reputation for being in possession of a strong low-rpm torque curve – and nor has the regular WRX for that matter. With nothing much available below 4000rpm – at which point the power and torque curves meet abruptly - the latest version does nothing to dispel that.
Devastatingly fast take-offs are possible, but there’s always the lurking knowledge that anything less than full concentration will have the Subaru bogging down and limping off the line like an infirm two-cylinder.
But get it right and the STi will launch cleanly, smartly and fast enough that only a genuine supercar will be able to keep pace.
The fun continues as speeds rise. The six-speed gearbox fills all the gaps neatly, enabling that 4000rpm-plus power band to be used effectively, right up to the 7000rpm warning buzzer.
This slingshot performance is accompanied by a tight, uncompromising ride, with the seriously grooved Bridgestone Potenza tyres thumping and rumbling in a way that announces their track-oriented design.
The steering, as you’d expect, is razor-sharp, a little less shock-affected than before but certainly not the sort of thing to encourage a laid-back driving style. Bump steer is evident, meaning that both hands need to be firmly on the wheel, at all times.
But the grip is sensational. The STi sits flat, carving up the bends with brutal efficiency, retaining enough compliance that mid-corner bumps do not upset it unduly.
Regular road use will of course rarely require the variable torque-split and, as mentioned earlier, the automatic mode is usually the most effective way of getting around efficiently. In terms of overall grip the STi is a world away from the regular WRX.
The interior is fairly workmanlike with its big, grippy sports seats up front, the Momo steering wheel and the clearly laid out but basic instrumentation. That said, the Subaru is a lot classier inside than it was originally, with better-quality vinyls and nicely tactile switches, knobs and levers.
A true performance car does not yield its secrets easily, and always extracts a price. The depths of the STi are probably beyond the abilities of most drivers, but a touch of mechanical sympathy will go a long way, particularly when it comes to extracting maximum performance.
The handling is much the same: a ham-fisted driver will be able to make it go fast enough, but it takes an expert to make best use of the variable-split 4WD system’s potential.
There’s definitely plenty of animal in the STi – and, like any well-bred animal, it takes a certain, but sensitive hand to tame it.
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